Tuesday, September 7
Better than: Actually bowling.
Ever seen a show at Brooklyn Bowl? Ever seen a free show at Brooklyn Bowl, when many people are there with no interest in seeing the band(s)? It’s a bowling alley, but it’s hard to say that bowling is the number one activity. The constant crashing of pins may make you believe it is, but don’t let that distract you. There’s also, inside the massive barn-like structure on Wythe in Williamsburg, the fried chicken mecca Blue Ribbon, scores of leather couches, The Matrix on more than four big screens, and absinthe cocktails. It’s basically like a giant funhouse. And while Tuesday night’s FADER Bowl featured the Brattleboro, VT trio Happy Birthday–who did their best to entertain with their weirdo-pop–the setting makes tuning in at 100% impossible.
But the band is what we were there for. Happy Birthday played on a stage that could fit a 20-piece band–intimacy is not the thing privileged here. Regardless of the space, the trio played ferociously in a style that’s part free-folk, part Vermont punk rock. Kyle Thomas (aka King Tuff) is a shape-shifting songwriter. Some of the band’s tracks are like “Subliminal Message” –a song many in the audience were mouthing along to–sporting saccharine-tinged lyrics and irresistible melody; others, like the sonically confounding “Pink Strawberry Shake,” shred the inner ear with chaotic rhythms supplied by drummer Ruth Garbus. And while the poppier numbers have you humming along, what makes Happy Birthday more than just your run-of-the-mill indie rock band is their tendency to be jarring and discordant. Some songs seem to have written out the chorus completely, choosing polyrhythms over listenability.
There was a sizeable crowd watching the band, though not nearly enough to fill the cavernous room. Screams were audible from stage left, where bowling leagues in matching t-shirts filled the multiple lanes. The band didn’t seem to mind. They were happy to be there, and they should be getting used to playing big rooms anyway–they’ll be opening a few dates for Dirty Projectors in the coming weeks.
The crowd: Stoic navel-gazing indie fans and league bowlers in brightly colored t-shirts.
Notebook dump: Cassie and Kevin from The Babies were there:
Overheard: “Is this the “Subliminal Message” band? I was singing that in the shower this morning!”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 8, 2010